17 September 2008

THE BEAT THAT MY HEART SKIPPED (Dir. Jacques Audiard, 2005, France)

The French film industry has always prided itself on it's staunchly anti-Hollywood attitudes and though they have been more successful than the Brits at resisting the imperialism of American cinema, French cinema like many other cinematic nations have borrowed quite regularly from the best that Hollywood has to offer international audiences. Whilst Hollywood is still busy remaking any world cinema film with potential commercial appeal, in 2006, mainstream French film maker, Jacques Audiard, committed a cardinal sin by remaking a 1970s Hollywood film titled 'Fingers' that starred Harvey Kietel as a small time gangster.

The reaction from Audiard's contemporaries was little, if any, in terms of disapproval, and when the film, 'The beat that my heart skipped' was released in France, it went on to become a mainstream success. The fear with remaking somebody else's film is the pressure of having to come up with something different and perhaps even a better film so to keep at bay the school of critics who are anticipating failure and self destruction. Like most successful remakes, Audiard transports the idea and concept from 'Fingers' about a gangster who has a naturally gifted talent for playing the piano and an intelligent appreciation for music into his own noirish narrative about a lonely, troubled young real estate developer who is faced with the dilemma of pursuing his desire to play the piano in a professional capacity or imitate the sleazy and violent life epitomised by his selfish, greedy father. Audiard does something quite extraordinary with the piano playing sequences, lingering obsessively on the hands of Tom (Romain Duris) with seductive close ups, rendering the entire musical experience as purely sexual and driven by a euphoria that surges through the narrative with an unstoppable energy.

Duris has emerged as perhaps the actor with the most youth appeal in French cinema today, and his portrayal of Tom is an intense character study that reminds one of how star charisma and conviction as a performer has become almost a rarity in virtually all national cinemas. European actors like Javier Bardem, Daniel Bruhl and Romain Duris represent some of the best acting talent in world cinema today, and I say this, primarily because they have never allowed themselves to become media celebrities, seeking out challenging and controversial roles that seem to characterise a commitment to the art of performance which is absent from the repertoire of many contemporary Hollywood actors who work under such naked constraints.

Audiard is a real master in terms of how he manipulates and utilises the most under rated of filmic elements; sound. His collaboration with French film actor and star, Vincent Cassel, in the 2002 film, 'Read my Lips', was cinema channelled through the power of a soundtrack that captured the details of a reality which was honestly articulated and amplified so we could fully experience a psychological state of mind without any false resort to arbitrary dialogue. A similar, honest approach to sound is also evident in 'The beat that my heart skipped' and the images of a shadowy Parisian night scape are vividly anchored by a minimalist choice of musical numbers. Music comes to penetrate the very soul of Tom, haunting him to the point of consuming him, and its affect upon the spectator is equally beguiling.

The final sequence is slightly uneven in how Audiard uses a perfunctory title card to indicate an ellipsis of nearly 2 years, and though this is quite common amongst world cinema film makers, it leaves us in limbo as we are suddenly forced to accept Tom's radical transformation from petty low life real estate enforcer to professional piano player and manager. The fear of personal failure and not being able to live up to the talent that one possesses is a personality flaw that repeatedly prevents Tom from realising his potential as a musician, and like all great noir protagonists, he is unable to escape from the brutal violence of his past, and in the final moments of the film, he succumbs to the primal urge of revenge. Audiard finishes his masterpiece with another close up, lingering and scrutinising the bloody and bruised fingers of Tom sitting in an audience of an apparently sophisticated class of people, listening to the sound of the piano, reflecting regretfully at the thought of never having been able to escape the banality of his own existence.

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